Leah Bell ('03, '06 M.F.A.) biography
While earning her bachelor's degrees in radio/television/film and art from UNT, Leah Bell saw the 1976 film Harlan County, U.S.A, about a coal miners' strike in Kentucky. She wanted to do what its director, Barbara Kopple, had done — educate people through film and make a difference in social issues.
"When I saw Harlan County, I was intrigued that I could be a witness to important issues in a small community so far away," says Bell, who adds that classes she took as an undergraduate also influenced her career. Her instructors, Ben Levin and Melinda Levin, are award-winning documentary filmmakers.
"I learned in their classes that filmmakers can take a social issue and inspire people," Bell says.
Bell entered UNT's M.F.A. program in documentary film production in January 2004. By August 2005, she herself was an award-winning filmmaker.
… And Then There Were Four, which Bell created to showcase her 77-year-old maternal grandmother's parenting of four of her grandsons, won first place in the documentary category of the NextFrame International Student Film Festival, which is sponsored by the University Film and Video Association.
As the top winner in its category, … And Then There Were Four was shown at the Korea Broadcasting Institute in Seoul and at universities and other venues throughout the United States, including the USA Film Festival in Dallas. It won the Family Award in the festival's annual National Short Film & Video Competition, which is given to a film that best represents a standard of excellence for audiences of all ages.
The final film Bell created as a graduate student, Access Denied, also received recognition. Bell sold several copies of the documentary about sculptor Eric McGehearty ('04 M.F.A.), who incorporates his experiences with dyslexia into his art, to the Dallas Independent School District.
The title of her film is also the title one of McGehearty's sculptures — books enclosed in stainless steel. Bell says that in addition to having McGehearty explain his disability in the documentary, she wanted to show him trying to read and write.
"It was important to address his specific problem with word recognition and emphasize how he works through his dyslexia, so I filmed him at the computer as he attempts to compose an e-mail message and has difficulty with spelling," she says. "I also picture him in the kitchen with his wife, who is reading a recipe to him as he prepares dinner."
Bell also incorporated experimental elements into her film so the audience could "see the world through the eyes of those with dyslexia." She is now seeking to bring Access Denied to other school districts.
Since receiving her M.F.A. degree, Bell has formed a production company, Taurustoo Productions, with her mother, Thelma Bell. She is also seeking a university teaching position.
"When I was first in the M.F.A. program, I knew that I wanted my own production company, but I never thought about being a professor," she says. "The program opened my eyes to teaching as well as making films."